be unable to stop the growth of popular support for Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the 
south.  By Abdumomun Mamairov in Jalalabad 

SETBACK LIKELY FOR KAZAKS’ OSCE HOPES  Despite the government’s optimism, local 
observers predict Kazakstan’s bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 will be turned 
down.  By Esbergen Tumat in Almaty 

MANY OBSTACLES TO NEW SILK ROUTE  Grand plans for a free flow of goods between 
east and west could be undermined by suspicious and uncooperative Central Asian 
leaderships.  By Tolkunbek Turdubaev in Bishkek 

simplify legislation and introduce transparency to entice new investors.  By 
IWPR staff in Central Asia 

projects to be accompanied with transparent monitoring of their environmental 
effects.  By IWPR staff in Central Asia 


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network of more than 50 journalists from across the North and South Caucasus. 
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Kyrgyz government seems to be unable to stop the growth of popular support for 
Hizb-ut-Tahrir in the south. 

By Abdumomun Mamairov in Jalalabad 

The Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir is going from strength to strength in southern 
Kyrgyzstan, where many analysts it is winning the struggle for hearts and minds 
despite an official ban on its activities. The Kyrgyz government’s tactics of 
arresting members and blocking public events staged by the group appear to be 
helping it find new recruits rather than sapping its strength, as it positions 
itself to articulate the discontent and social concerns of broad swathes of the 

Some observers are now calling for a more sophisticated response, including 
training mainstream Muslim clerics to a higher standard so that they are 
equipped to deliver counter-arguments to Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s claims, and offering 
people other channels through which to express their concerns. 


Hizb-ut-Tahrir originated in the Middle East and gained a foothold in Central 
Asia in the Nineties after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It first took hold 
in Uzbekistan, where it remains strong despite the arrest thousands of alleged 
members in recent years. It then spread to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan 
and Kazakstan, initially through the ethnic Uzbek communities there but 
subsequently gaining ground among other population groups. 

The group advocates the replacement of secular governments by a Caliphate 
governed by Islamic precepts. Although it insists it does not advocate violence 
as a means of achieving its aims, regional governments have accused it of being 
behind a number of attacks, and have prohibited its activities and arrested 
suspected members on a regular basis.

Unlike other regional states, the Kyrgyz criminal code does not explicitly ban 
Hizb-ut-Tahrir membership, although the country’s Supreme Court issued a ruling 
prohibiting the group from operating in 2003, and the constitution prohibits 
faith-based political parties in general. 

Despite sweeping arrests in Uzbekistan, and smaller numbers of detentions in 
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the group still seems to attract members, in part 
because its message speaks to socially and economically marginalised groups in 
a way that government seems unable to do. 

In southern Kyrgyzstan, it is thriving and finding new ways of engaging with an 
overwhelmingly Muslim population on issues that concern them rather than on is 
own specific agenda. 

A few years ago, Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s standard medium of communication was leaflets 
stuck up in public places by activists. These days, they put out the word on 
CDs and DVDs. A boom in Chinese imports has created a glut of DVD players that 
are inexpensive even for southern Kyrgyzstan, the worst-off part of a poor 
country. IWPR was told by locals that most families had a DVD machine and the 
Hizb-ut-Tahrir films were watched “with interest”. 


Members say their next DVD release will contain footage of Eid al-Fitr 
celebrations marking the end of Ramadan in the southern town of Nookat. Islam 
is strong here as it is across the Kyrgyz south – Nookat district has 150 
mosques, compared with 110 schools.

The group’s role in this event, and the response of local government, provide 
an object lesson in how the authorities struggle to find an adequate response – 
they do not want to allow Hizb-ut-Tahrir free rein, but using tough tactics to 
stop it can prove counterproductive. 

Abdygany Aliev, head of the Nookat district administration, said officials 
would have been happy to support THE Eid celebrations but drew the line when 
they felt Hizb-ut-Tahrir was hijacking the event.

He said the trouble began on October 12, when about 300 party supporters turned 
up on the main square in Nookat along with ordinary Muslims keen to mark the 
end of the fasting period with a traditional feast. 

“At first, we welcomed the initiative to hold a big celebration of the Muslim 
feast,” said Aliev. “But Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists started using this event for 
their own ends. 

Before the Eid festival, about 1,000 people signed a petition calling on the 
government to fund the celebrations, and also to pay for a new state school for 
girls who want to follow the Muslim dress code. 

Hizb-ut-Tahrir members told IWPR they helped with logistical arrangements for 
the party. 

“When we announced the holiday, ordinary Muslims responded, with some giving 
rice and others [cooking] equipment,” said one of the organisers, 66-year old 
Jibek Asanova from the village of Kara-Oy.

A member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir who gave his name as Khalil, added, “Over 10,000 
invitations were distributed, tightrope walkers were brought in from a 
neighboring district, a free lottery was held, and we decided to treat people 
to pilaf cooked outside,” says other person who also 

However, police stepped on and blocked the street celebrations. “The police 
wouldn’t let the tightrope perform do their act, and made us cook the pilaf at 
home and bring it to the square.” 

“When the Muslims went off for Eid prayers, the police took away our pilaf 
cauldron, foodstuffs and other items,” said Khalil. “Several young men involved 
in prepareing the event were detained and beaten up.” 

Aliev confirmed that police stepped in but said they only did what was 
necessary and acted “within the bounds of the law”.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir says the authorities’ actions caused widespread discontent among 
Nookat residents, and the event transformed into a demonstration involving some 
15,000 people. 

“Ordinary Muslims and even schoolchildren condemned the actions of government,” 
said Khalil. “They protested openly and cursed the officials. After all, pilaf 
and other kinds of events are allowed during other holidays.” 

Activists say that having lost control, the local officials had to call in a 
different kind of authority – known Hizb-ut-Tahrir members – to pacify the 

The protest had tapped into a complex set of locally-felt feelings of 

“People should be aware of the shameful behaviour of our authorities who 
defaced a sacred holiday,” said another Hizb-ut-Tahrir activist, who did not 
want to be named. 

“These officials are Muslims as well, so why are they putting pressure on us?” 
asked Asanova. They celebrate the Christian holiday [sic] of New Year and they 
gave a prize of 50,000 soms [1,400 US dollars] for the best tree…. Why don’t 
they give us that money?” 


Local government chief Aliev insists Muslim celebrations are being exploited 
for use in Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s propaganda campaign. 

It is a view shared by Dilmurat Orozov, the director of the Centre for Islamic 
Education, who added that on another occasion where local officials did attend 
a similar event, Hizb-ut-Tahrir turned this to its advantage, too. 

“They filmed one of the Muslim festivals that was attended by the local 
authorities,” said Orozov. “Later they used the footage to suggest that the 
festival had been organised by Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the local authorities came 
along to it.”

Observers have noted how Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which a few years ago was a covert 
group whose only visible presence was its covertly-circulated leaflets, is now 
using issues that have broad public appeal to reposition itself as a legitimate 
force in the political mainstream. Last year, for example, as Kyrgyzstan was 
discussing the need to revise its constitution, Hizb-ut-Tahrir sent a draft of 
its own – outlining the foundations of an Islamic state – to the national 
newspapers, which did not publish it.

Arkarbek Sadabaev, deputy head of the government’s State Agency for Religious 
Affairs, told IWPR earlier this year that that activists “openly travel around 
and make speeches in all parts of the country…. collect money, lay on meals and 
hold charity campaigns to draw people in”.

Sadabaev noted that the group was careful to avoid anything that might get them 
into legal trouble. “They know that unless they openly campaign to change the 
constitutional system, they cannot be charged solely for belonging to the 
party,” he said.


Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s ultimate aim remains the removal of the current secular state. 
On an official website it describes itself explicitly as a “political party” 
which will restore the Caliphate of the early days of Islam. 

“Officials have always tried to keep people in awe and talk to Muslims from a 
position of strength, but they have not won people’s trust. People are 
disappointed with democracy and the government,” said Khalil.

Kyrgyz officials insist Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a real threat, and that it is funded 
from abroad 

“The more pressure the state puts on them, the more money they receive from 
abroad,” said Aliev. “It hasn’t been proved, but they do get money from abroad. 
How else would they have the money to stage such celebrations?”

Despite Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s stress on non-violence, Kyrgyz officials allege that 
weapons have been found during raids on members’ homes, and also that the group 
is linked to another radical group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU

The IMU is a guerrilla group which mounted a series of armed incursions into 
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan between 1999 and 2001. It lost the capacity to mount 
such raids after the United States-led Coalition entered Afghanistan in late 
2001, sweeping the Taleban and their IMU allies out of the north of the 
country. The IMU’s forces are now believed to be concentrated in Waziristan in 
northwestern Pakistan, from where its leader Tohir Yuldash makes occasional 
videoed statements aimed at people in Central Asia. 

In the case of both Hizb-ut-Tahrir and IMU, the situation is complicated by the 
cross-border connection with Uzbekistan, where the government has taken a much 
tougher line on suspected Islamic radicals and has urged its Kyrgyz 
counterparts to do the same. This pressure intensified after the Andijan 
violence of May 2005, in which security forces shot down several hundred people 
on the city’s central square. Many people fled across the nearby border to 
southern Kyrgyzstan, and Presdient Kurmanbek Bakiev’s administration came under 
strong pressure to cooperate with Uzbek security servuces seeking to snatch 
alleged militants among the refugees. 

Several leading members of both Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the IMU were killed in 
Kyrgyz police operations last year, some of which involved the Uzbek secret 
service. In perhaps the most notorious incident, Kadyr Malikov a prominent 
Islamic cleric in southern Kyrgyzstan, Mohammadrafiq Kamolov, was shot dead 
with two other men in what Kyrgyz security sources said was a counter-terrorism 
operation conducted jointly with their Uzbek counterparts. 


OrozalyKarasartov, head of public affairs in the Jalalabad regional 
administration, admits that apart from police methods, the state lacks the 
tools to counter the Hizb-ut-Tahrir phenomenon. 

“In terms of ideology, the state cannot do anything against them because there 
are so few experts in the state and security bodies,” said Karasartov. “I see 
no way of fighting them other than punitive measures based on criminal law”. 

Karasartov insists that tough action will not lead to Hizb-ut-Tahrir recruiting 
more members. 

Many analysts disagree. Valentina Grizenko of Spravedlivost (Justice), a human 
rights group which has taken up cases of Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists alleging 
police mistreatment, said using force against the group was counterproductive. 

Grizenko recalled a case from 2004 when the police brutally beat up four 
Hizb-ut-Tahrir members as well as another man who was not a member. The result, 
she said, was that this fifth man went on to join the party

She noted that the men filed a law suit against the police but lost the case 
despite the existence of forensic medical reports stating that they had been 
beaten up. 

Party activists told IWPR that repressive measures and demonstrably flawed 
legal processes only proved their case and boosted their recruitment

“Let the government prevent us from conduction of holidays, persecute us and 
put pressure on us. They only help us by doing that,” said one man, who claimed 
that thanks to government repression, membership was on the rise. He said the 
group only had about 2,000 supporters in the south of Kyrgyzstan ten years ago, 
but now there were 30,000 of them.

“We consciously chose this path and agreed to the risk of death,” said one 
activist. “We fear only God.” 

Other party members said the threat of imprisonment was no deterrent. “Prison 
is untilled soil for us,” he said. “There, too, we will do what we do.”


Hizb-ut-Tahrir belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam that is practiced in 
Central Asia. But its radical stance, vigorous proselytising, and fragmented 
cellular structure all mark it out from the normal practice of faith in 
Kyrgyzstan, where the Islam is officially the preserve of a Soviet-era 
hierarchical institution called the Muftiate which maintains close ties with 
the secular state. 

Many observers say the Muftiate and lower-level clerics are simply not up to 
the job of confronting a new radical religious strand with its radical, dynamic 

Observers say Hizb-ut-Tahrir activists deliver their message in clear and 
simple terms, citing chapter and verse from the Koran and other literature. A 
police investigator who did not want to be named said half in jest that if he 
questioned a detained Hizb-ut-Tahrir suspect for a couple of months more, he 
himself might get recruited into the party. 

Meanwhile, the traditional clergy – the mosque prayer-leaders or imams - are 
not sufficiently versed in the finer points of theology to be able to explain 
things clearly to their congregations and take the intellectual and moral high 
ground against Hizb-ut-Tahrir. 

“Unfortunately, our imams are unable to resist them,” said Nookat local 
government chief Aliev. 

Orozov, now director of the Centre for Islamic Education, formerly headed the 
Muftiate’s department in Jalalabad for nine years, and says that even the 
national-level body is short on competence, while local imams are worse. 

“These [Muftiate] people are unqualified and lack authority… never mind the 
imams,” he said. “We need to replace our imams with young, educated people.” 

Toygonbek Kalmatov, director of the government agency in charge of religious 
affairs, said in September that of the 12,000 imams in Kyrgyzstan, 70 per cent 
have had no formal theological training. That may, however, be partly because 
only two theological faculties are currently entitled to issue nationally 
recognised diplomas, while the Islamic University and other teaching 
institutions are not.


Khalil, one of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir members interviewed for this report, said 
that the group is already looking forward to the next big date in the Muslim 
calendar, Eid al-Adha, known here as Kurban Bairam, which will fall in January. 

During the run-up to last year’s festival, Hizb-ut-Tahrir mounted a campaign 
for the abolition of the secular New Year holiday, which in Kyrgyzstan is of 
Soviet origin.

Now they are viewing the next Eid holiday as an opportunity for a new trial of 
strength with the Kyrgyz authorities. It looks like a win-win situation whether 
officials opt to pay for the celebrations or not. 

“If they prohibit [sic] this holiday again, it will cause mass discontent among 
even average Muslims,” said Khalil. On the other hand, “If they will organise 
the celebrations themselves, they will have to admit they made a mistake during 
the last one.” 

Abdumomun Mamairov is an IWPR contributor in Jalalabad, southern Kyrgyzstan.


Despite the government’s optimism, local observers predict Kazakstan’s bid to 
chair the OSCE in 2009 will be turned down. 

By Esbergen Tumat in Almaty 

While most analysts now expect that Kazakstan’s bid to chair the Organisation 
for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2009 will be unsuccessful, some 
believe it suggest that it could get another chance two years after that.

A rejection for the 2009 chairmanship would be a blow to Astana, implying that 
it had failed to reach required standards of democracy and human rights, but 
local analysts say they do not fear a backlash in these areas if the bid is 
turned down. 

OSCE foreign ministers are expected to take a final decision on Kazakstan’s 
application when they meet on November 29-30.

Kazak officials have been lobbying hard to win the rotating chairmanship in 
2009, as a way of winning acceptance as a major international player.

However, some of the OSCE’s western members do not believe the chair should be 
handed to Kazakstan when the country falls down on many of the democratic 
principles to which participating states have signed up. OSCE foreign ministers 
were expected to rule on the Kazak bid last December but concerns about whether 
Astana had achieve key benchmarks led to the decision being delayed by a year.

Publicly, Kazak officials remain upbeat about their country’s chances. In a 
November 12 interview for the Vremya newspaper, Kazak foreign ministry 
spokesman Ilyas Omarov said it was premature to suggest the bid might fail. 

However, the reason for his confidence seemed come down to the lack of a rival 
candidate for the OSCE chair. 

“Kazakstan is the only candidate for 2009. There are simply no other 
applicants,” he said.

Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose country holds the OSCE 
chairmanship this year, has indicated that member states are still divided on 
the issue.

“We hope and are sure that this is an excellent opportunity for Kazakstan, 
Central Asia, and the OSCE as a whole,” he said in a speech on October 29. “For 
now, there is not a final consensus regarding the date of the chairmanship by 
Kazakstan, but… Spain is actively seeking to build a consensus amongst all OSCE 
states on this important decision.”

Most analysts believe it is unrealistic to expect a positive decision when 
foreign minister gather next month, pointing to recent developments which have 
probably made Kazakstan’s chances worse rather than better. 

In August, President Nazarbayev's Nur-Otan party won every seat in the lower 
house of parliament, in an elections which external observers said did not meet 
international standards of fairness. 

Then in late October, the authorities came under fire from media-watchers after 
they blocked access to internet sites that were carrying transcripts of what 
were alleged to be damaging phone conversations by senior officials. 

Dosym Satpaev of the Risk Assessment Group in Almaty agrees that the 2009 bid 
now looks unlikely. 

One compromise, however, would be to offer the Kazaks a chance to win the chair 
in 2011, the next available date. Satpaev believes that is on the cards. “They 
will propose that our country is made a candidate for 2011 and will lay down a 
number of preconditions for that,” he said. 

However, if the 2011 date is put forward, Satpaev believes Kazak diplomats will 
lobby to ensure no additional conditions are attached. 

Satpaev is concerned that rejection could push Kazakstan closer to some of its 
former Soviet neighbours which are also in the OSCE but would like to see the 
security grouping devote less attention to examining members’ democratic and 
human rights credentials – specifically theirs.

“They have tried to shift the focus of the OSCE’s work from protecting human 
rights to other areas such as security and energy provision.”

Satpaev believes that if the OSCE was forced to move in such a direction, it 
would harm the grouping’s reputation for upholding rights and freedoms and 
would provide a pretext for restricting its mandate in some states. 

Kazak journalist Ruslan Bakhtigareev shares these concerns. Writing in Vremya 
on November 12, he said that if Kazakstan’s bid is rejected, some of its 
partners in the Commonwealth of Independent States will press for changes to 
the OSCE.

A joint proposal has recently been put forward by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, 
Belarus, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which they hope will appear on the agenda 
of the November meeting. They want election monitoring to be introduced in all 
56 member states – in other words not just in the undemocratic ones – and to 
restrict the size of OSCE election monitoring missions to 50.

Human rights activists are not predict that the Kazak authorities will become 
more - or less – oppressive if they fail to get the OSCE chair.

Sergei Duvanov, a journalist with Inkar-Info radio, said, “There is a lot of 
pressure on human rights organisations in Kazakstan. The overall trend towards 
clamping down on them will continue regardless of whether Kazakstan’s bid is 
successful or not. The authorities show no visible signs of trying to conform 
to the OSCE’s [democratic] principles.” 

Another Almaty-based political analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed 
that the outcome will have little bearing on the situation inside Kazakstan.

“The government controls the situation tightly. The majority of the population 
is apolitical and neutral on political matters, and the opposition has a 
limited influence on society – as was demonstrated during the [August] 
parliamentary election,” he said.

Kanat Berentaev, deputy director of the Almaty-based Centre for Public Policy 
Analysis, believes the aspiration to lead the OSCE comes from President 
Nursultan Nazarbaev himself, who he says sees his own interests and the 
national interest as one and the same thing.

“If Kazakstan achieves something positive, it is due to his personal efforts. 
If the president is successful at something, it is an achievement for 
Kazakstan,” said Berentaev.

Esbergen Tumat is the pseudonym of a journalist in Almaty.


Grand plans for a free flow of goods between east and west could be undermined 
by suspicious and uncooperative Central Asian leaderships.

By Tolkunbek Turdubaev in Bishkek 

While analysts welcome a recent agreement to create a modern trade route 
through Central Asia, they say many barriers still stand in the way of its 

An agreement on the trade route has been given the green light, with costs 
estimated at 18 billion US dollars. However, local experts say the reluctance 
of Central Asian countries to work together to smooth cross-border traffic 
remains a serious obstacle.

On November 3, eight regional states agreed to a plan to improve the network of 
roads, airports, railway lines, and seaports in Central Asia to create a 
modern-day version of the Silk Road – the trade route which for centuries 
supplied a vital link from east to west – and make the region a vibrant land 
route for trade between Europe and Asia.

The plan was agreed at the sixth conference on the Central Asia Regional 
Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Programme in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, attended 
by ministers from, four of the five Central Asian states - Kazakstan, 
Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – plus Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, China and 

CAREC is an initiative backed by the Asian Development Bank, ADB, established 
in 1997 to encourage economic cooperation among countries in Central Asia. 

The plan as approved will mean ten years of investment in constructing and 
upgrading of six road and rail transport corridors. Half of the funding will be 
provided by the eight participating countries, and the ADB should put up the 

In their joint declaration, CAREC ministers said, “The strategy will establish 
competitive transport corridors across the CAREC region, facilitate movement of 
people and goods across borders, and develop safe, dependable, effective, 
efficient and fully integrated transport systems that are environmentally 

The idea of a common transport network has been discussed at other recent 
forums. At a November 8 meeting with Sergei Lebedev, the Executive Secretary of 
the Commonwealth of Independence States, president Kurmanbek Bakiev said he 
would his country’s term in the rotating chairmanship of this former Soviet 
grouping to work on regional transport issues and lifting unnecessary barriers 
to trade, which he said were vital to develop the economic potential of 
regional states.

China and Uzbekistan announced they wanted to accelerate the construction of 
transit roads through Kyrgyzstan - a decision confirmed when Chinese premier 
Wen Jiabao visited Tashkent in early November. According to the Xinhua news 
agency, China and Uzbekistan intend to increase their trade turnover to one and 
a half billion US dollars by 2010. 

While Central Asian analysts welcome the idea of a modern version of the Silk 
Road, they express concern that the chronic lack of coordination between 
countries in the region may mean the plan never gets off the ground. They say 
that in the 16 years since the Soviet Union collapsed, Central Asian leaders 
have failed to understand that collaboration is essential if they want to 
compete internationally. 

According to the ADB, less than one per cent of the volume of trade between 
Europe and Asia currently goes through Central Asia.

Most trade and transit arrangements are organised on a bilateral , often ad hoc 
basis rather than through mulitilateral agreements.

Dosym Satpaev, who heads the Almaty-based Risk Assessment Group, argues that 
disagreement on customs and transit policies has obstructed regional 

“International experience shows that transit brings in very substantial 
profits,” he said. “The problem is that… there are considerable differences in 
transit fees, customs regulations and tax levels have not been agreed, there 
are problems with cross-border trade, and frontier are often closed, generally 
for no good reason. And most importantly, there is no common policy for levying 
fees on the transit of goods and services. All these factors, of course, have a 
damaging effect on trade and economic cooperation in Central Asia.”

Satpaev believes a supranational body is needed to develop and oversee common 
customs and trade rules.

At the moment, he said, mistrust between regional leaders and a tendency to 
strive for purely national interests puts them at a disadvantage. Central Asian 
leaders feared losing the sovereignty their countries won with the collapse of 
the Soviet Union.

“These elites fear they would lose sovereignty – a kind of mythical 
independence – if a supranational body were to be created. But nothing can 
happen unless it is set up,” he said.

Asylbek Ayupov, a specialist on regional economic ties at the Kyrgyz-Russian 
Slavonic University in Bishkek, is convinced that creating common transport 
corridors could boost the regional economy, but notes that outstanding disputes 
between some regional states and their different levels of development are not 
conducive to greater cooperation.

One of the main obstacles to the free flow of goods, he said, is systemic 
corruption at every step of the process.

“The system itself… does not change; the same people are in charge of the 
process. It is their fault that corruption has become a clot in the blood 
vessels of the economy. Corrupt relationships are an integral part of the 
current system; they cannot be broken as they are as strong and enduring as a 
granite monolith,” said Ayupov. 

Mahamadjon Abdurakhmanov, a businessman from Bishkek, told IWPR of the kind of 
problems Central Asians face when crossing into neighbouring countries, “You 
face many difficulties even when you go to the nearest, neighbouring country. 
In my experience, the journey entails all kinds of checks and searches at the 
border. People often have to wait in queues, fill in migration cards and 
customs declarations and go through lengthy procedures.”

According to Abdurakhmanov, transporting goods is even more difficult, with 
long and cumbersome border procedures to go through.

“Although there are legal requirements to be met in order to cross the border, 
these could be simplified and more civilised limits,” he said. “That would mean 
that my colleagues and I would cross the border more frequently – five or ten 
times a month, instead of the two or three times we do now. We – together with 
the leaders in our region - would benefit from such a revival in commerce.”

Tolkunbek Turdubaev is a BBC stringer in Kyrgyzstan.


Analysts say the country must simplify legislation and introduce transparency 
to entice new investors.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

Foreign companies remain reluctant to invest in Tajikistan due to the 
complicated legislation and widespread corruption, experts say.

At the end of October, the Tajik head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
Hamrohon Zarifi held a meeting with European ambassadors accredited to the 
country and called for their countries to invest in Tajikistan. 

In particular, the authorities are seeking financial backing for work to 
complete the giant Rogun hydroelectric power station, construction of which was 
suspended this summer after disagreements between Tajikistan and the Russian 
company constructing the plant.

However, this was not an attractive prospect to the European diplomats, who 
argued that little progress had been made in creating a favourable climate for 
foreign investors. 

Tajikistan is one of the poorest states in the region and lacks energy 
resources other than the water that powers electricity. 

The Rogun plant is seen as being of vital importance to the country’s future, 
and the authorities are keen to finish the project. Construction began three 
decades ago, but ground to a halt after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 

In 2004, Tajik President Imomali Rahmon gave Russian aluminum company RUSAL 
rights to complete the work, the idea being that copious amounts of electricity 
would allow the firm to invest in aluminium production, a notoriously 
power-hungry industry. However, the deal fell apart earlier this year over 
differences on technical issues such as the height of the dam, and in 
September, Rahmon signed a final document annulling the contract. 

To complete the project, Dushanbe wants to create a consortium involving 
several foreign investors. But analysts say it may be hard to find takers. 

The Ministry for Economic Development says foreign direct investment is rising, 
with 196 million US dollars last year and 167 million dollars in 
January-October 2007. 

But 105 million dollars of this year’s sum came from just one source - Russian 
money earmarked for another hydroelectric project at Sangtuda – illustrating 
the painful lack of diversity in the country’s investors. Most investment 
currently comes from Tajikistan’s strategic ally Russia, culturally similar 
Iran, and eastern neighbour China.

British ambassador Graeme Loten, speaking as the local chair of the European 
Union, said Tajikistan needed to simplify its legislation and make investment 
conditions more transparent if it was to attract a wider range of investors.

“Tangled legislation must be simplified, information on investments must be 
more transparent and, most importantly, corruption must be fought at all 
levels,” he said.

Loten told IWPR that British investors who have to work on joint ventures have 
complained to him of frequently-changing rules and the modification of official 
agreements. He cited the case of one British company forced to pull out the 
country after changes were made to its agreement with the Tajik government.

Dilshod Alimov, a lawyer with the Pragma Corporation, a Washington-based 
consultancy, told IWPR that registering in Tajikistan is a long and complicated 
business. Investors must go through a number of formal procedures and deal with 
a range of agencies including the justice and interior ministries.

“An entrepreneur has to go through all of these agencies himself and the 
registration process may take from two to six months,” said Alimov.

According to Alimov, the process could be simplified if the government 
introduced a one-stop shop where investors could deal with all the different 
agencies at the one time. Tajikistan is moving towards such a system, but the 
lawyer said it was hard to say when it would happen. 

Alimov agreed that investing is Tajikistan is a risky prospect, with the 
country coming second-bottom on last year’s World Bank list of countries ranked 
by levels of investor protection.

One significant omission, he said, was that Tajikistan was not a signatory to 
the convention governing international courts of arbitration, so when foreign 
companies find themselves in dispute with local partners, they have to work 
through the local court system.

“Several investors have lost court cases in Tajikistan,” said Alimov.

The converse is also true, Alimov added. The many legal loopholes can allow 
investors to come in and “conduct business in a manner that would never be 
allowed in their countries”. 

Another analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, said that investors faced 
great difficulties from Tajik bureaucracy and high levels of corruption. In 
particular, he highlighted problems with registration – even though the 
official fee is low, the agencies involved can demand extra payments to deal 
with certain technicalities. 

Gafur Rasulov, a departmental head at the Ministry for Economic Development and 
Trade, accepted that despite some improvements, business conditions were 
nowhere near meeting modern international standards. 

In some cases, he said, contracts were changed at a later date because those 
involved in drawing them up on the Tajik side did not fully understand the 
implications at the time. 

“If the financial analysts concerned had understood all the necessary 
components and the risks at the time, it wouldn’t have been necessary to change 
the terms ten years down the line,” he said. 

Analyst Khojimahmad Umarov argues that the main barriers to foreign investment 
are corruption and red tape. In addition, Tajikistan is not helped by its 
landlocked isolation and its poor transport infrastructure.

Umarov said one answer was to provide more tax incentives than neighbouring 
Central Asian states. “There’s a need to offer conditions that are better than 
in neighbouring countries, for instance on taxation. In practice, we have 
significantly higher taxes than Russia and Kazakstan,” he said,

Saifullo Safarov, deputy director of the president’s Centre for Strategic 
Research, is more optimistic, arguing that the government is working on making 
Tajikistan more attractive by improving legislation and other areas.

“Previously, there were no good hotels, poor communications, and a poor banking 
system. Now everything has got significantly better. There are high-class 
hotels being constructed, communications are better than in many other 
countries, and the banks are getting stronger and more stable,” he said.


Experts call for new energy projects to be accompanied with transparent 
monitoring of their environmental effects.

By IWPR staff in Central Asia 

Deals to increase extraction of Turkmen hydrocarbons are being done behind 
closed doors, with no information available on measures taken to protect the 
environment, say analysts.

Environmentalists are calling for the authorities in energy-rich Turkmenistan, 
which ranks fourth in the world for natural gas extraction, to conduct 
independent monitoring of the damage to the environment caused by extraction 
and processing, and to make information on this publicly available. 

Apart from the state oil and gas producer, there are also 48 foreign firms 
involved in developing sites under production-sharing agreements, including 
Dubai-based Dragon Oil, Malaysian government owned Petronas, Denmark’s Maersk 
and the German Wintershall. 

While these foreign investors have to meet certain environmental obligations, 
the terms of their contracts are confidential and inaccessible to the public.

Within the last six months, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov has been 
actively seeking new energy partners and has invited a number of foreign 
companies to come in. 

In March, he made it a priority to develop the Turkmen sector of the Caspian 
Sea. Under a state plan, Turkmenistan is supposed to increase production of 
natural gas by 50 per cent and oil by 15 per cent by the end of 2007, both by 
opening up new finds and using imported technology to rationalise extraction 
and processing. 

In mid-October, Berdymuhammedov took a step towards opening up access to energy 
resources for British companies when he signed a memorandum of understanding 
with the Minister of State for Energy, Malcolm Wicks. One month earlier, 
Ashgabat agreed to a number of joint oil and gas projects with Japan’s JGC 

A substantial increase in investment is expected after an international oil and 
gas exhibition and conference scheduled for the end of December.

However, environmentalists are concerned about the effect of more energy 

Tight restrictions on information in mean that there has been no independent 
environmental monitoring in the country for a long time. and there is no 
official data on the environmental situation.

In September 2007, the United States-based pressure groups Crude Accountability 
published a report in which it expressed its concern at the lack of available 
information both on the environmental obligations of investors in Turkmen 
energy, and on terms of compensation that oil and gas companies must pay in the 
case of environmental pollution. 

One of the report’s recommendations was that “companies should ensure that 
environmental impact assessments are conducted properly and in compliance not 
only with national legislation but also with the highest international 

One local ecologist says the Turkmen government is not willing to cooperate 
with experts on the environment.

“We do not have environmentalists who could conduct research on environmental 
changes and the impact of drilling sites on human and animal immune systems. 
[We are] are not allowed in anywhere, and we play no role in important 
environmental decisions,” said the employee of an Ashgabat environmental 
organisation who asked to remain anonymous. 

An employee of Turkmenistan’s nature protection ministry insisted, however, 
that checks were in place to protect the environment and ensure that companies 
met their obligations.

“No contract will be concluded without an environmental impact assessment. 
Waste water must not exceed 0.005 milligrams of petrochemicals products per 
litre. For instance, at our request the Malaysian company Petronas is currently 
procuring additional equipment,” the official told IWPR.

However, an analyst working on a local environmental project believes the 
current measures are insufficient, and would like to see the government allow 
independent environmental experts to visit oil and gas fields under development 
to assess the situation.

“There should be public monitoring at all sites, and the state must impose the 
highest requirements on investors,” he said.

A scientist from Turkmenistan’s Institute for Desert Research, who specialises 
in the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction, said that even with the 
latest production methods, pollution is inevitable. 

“We are on the brink of an environmental catastrophe, because the Caspian 
cannot withstand… an intervention like wide-scale development of oil and gas 
fields,” argued the scientist.

Residents of Turkmenbashi, a major port on the eastern Caspian, are concerned 
that further developing the oil and gas industry may pose a threat to them. 

Over one billion dollars has been earmarked for an upgrade of the local oil 
refining complex, one of the biggest in the country. 

“I worry about the arrival of a large number of foreign companies,” said a 
doctor from the city. “How conscientiously will they fulfill all the 
requirements? How will they dispose of waste products? What impact will all of 
these have on the environment?”

The residents may have reason to be worried. On the Saymonov Bay on the city 
outskirts, oil refineries have been disposing of waste for many years, and 
there is evidence of pollution.

Analysts say the last environmental study here was done in 1993, and showed 
then that the concentration of hydrocarbons in the air was 400 times what it 
should be, and levels of toxic phenols was 70 to 80 times higher than normal.

People who live there say there is an unpleasant smell in the air whenever the 
weather is windy.

“If the wind blows off the sea, we immediately close the windows of our homes 
so as not to be suffocated,” said one local.

**** www.iwpr.net 

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, 
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The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, 
Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better 
local and international understanding of the region.

IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The 
service is published online in English and Russian. 

The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and 
do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal 
Chazan; Senior Editor: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule 
Mukhametrakhimova; Project Director: Kumar Bekbolotov.

IWPR Project Development and Support: Executive Director: Anthony Borden; 
Strategy & Assessment Director: Alan Davis; Chief Programme Officer: Mike Day.

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